Why I left Amazon – Memoirs of a Venture Calvinist (Part 1 of 3)

In his commencement speech at Princeton renowned entrepreneur Jeff Bezos challenged the graduating students:

  • How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
  • Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
  • Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
  • Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

These were convicting questions after working for three years at Amazon (affiliate link). Before joining, I wanted to start a company based on my research in automatic language translation. I competed in business plan competitions, vigorously working to turn ideas into products that could help people, but as my degree came to a close, so did the doors of opportunity.

Dejected, I submitted resumes to recruiters at career fairs and despite interviews and offers found myself in deep depression. Through my parents’ comfort and counsel I eventually came to terms with the death of my dream and changed my ambition to simply serve God faithfully where ever he sent me.

That place turned out to be Amazon and it was an incredible blessing.

What I learned at Amazon

Working closely with world-class engineers motivated me to become skillful enough to scale up and productionize any idea. I learned that things take time. I learned the importance of figuring out the right thing to build instead of building as an end in itself (balanced with a bias for action). I learned how to recruit and how to work with and lead a team. I gained a treasured community of Christians at Amazon, and organized events to discuss the Theology of Technology and to compare Amazon leadership principles with Scripture. I loved my team and enjoyed a comfortable income with which I could bless others.

But on a lonely May Friday night, everything changed. The dream came back.

The Adventure Begins

Exhausted after working late, I plopped on my bed and tried to take a nap. But instead of dozing off, I felt wide awake and it seemed like the Lord said to me:

“Chris, I want you to leave your job and devote your attention to the purpose to which I have called you and trust me to provide for you”.

I wasn’t sure. So I talked with family and friends who expressed concerns for my welfare, but nothing that led me to doubt the call. It seemed in line with Scripture since it was calling me to trust in God and to holiness.  After a period of discernment, I told my manager of my intention to leave and agreed to stay until the completion of the big project my team was working on.

In the ensuing months, my heart sank like a teabag in an eco cup. Self-doubt, fear of failure, attachment to my team, my salary and my identity as an Amazonian, fear of being alone, of being put to shame and looking crazy for doing this without being “ready” or because “God told me to”, hearing about competition, hearing cautions about making money in the faith+tech space, and innumerable other anxieties plagued me.

The Lingering Question

Some of the hardest conversations were with people who recommended that I do things on the side until I had something solid. It was common sense, but I felt speechless because I believed God called me to leave my job. So during a weekend at Cannon Beach, I pondered the question:

“What can you do after you quit that you could not do before?”

There had to be something more than just giving time and attention to my dream. While praying on the serene shores of the Oregon coast, I arrived at an answer:

“By leaving you can witness to the supreme worth of Jesus Christ”

I could show that He is more valuable than money and more desirable than a life of comfort. I could show that following him is more secure than a successful career. If minimizing regret and the promise of independence, riches, fame, adventure and changing the world are enough to motivate people to entrepreneurship, how much more should God’s call compel me to go? How could I joyfully invite others to trust in my Savior, if I would not trust him in this matter?

And so it was settled. Despite all of the pros and cons, I had to leave Amazon in obedience to God’s call. I wanted to show by my actions that Jesus Christ is more precious than anything else I desire in life. So when the project wound down, I submitted my letter of resignation, celebrated with my colleagues and began a new adventure.

In my next post, I want to get you excited about the vision :).

Call to Action

If you’re a Christian, is God calling you to do something challenging? Does it help to know that this is an opportunity for him to show his trustworthiness in your life?

If you’re not a follower of Jesus, do you believe there is some other person or cause that you can unreservedly devote your passion, affection, intellect and energy to? I believe there is no greater pleasure than giving unmitigated love to Christ because he is worthy of it all. And though I still have far to go, this is the joy I would like to invite you to as well.

Please share your comments below!

Published by

Chris Lim

I'm the founder of TheoTech (www.theotech.org), a company activating a movement of Technology Entrepreneurship for the Gospel. This means beginning with God as the Customer and working backwards to invent products that deliver outcomes He desires. I created Ceaseless (ceaselessprayer.com) and SPF.IO (spf.io) as two examples of this principle in action. I'd love to connect if you're passionate about using the best business and technology have to offer to advance God's Kingdom.

4 thoughts on “Why I left Amazon – Memoirs of a Venture Calvinist (Part 1 of 3)”

  1. Thanks for keeping me informed of your adventures.

    We are doing well in the PanLex project, mainly planning to accelerate the pace of addition of content to the database, including from the hundreds of resources that SIL keeps publishing from its archives.

    This blog entry reminds me of my own decisions to make career transitions (academia to business, business to philanthropic engineering). I had motives, tried to estimate consequences, and was aware of risks, but expressed my decision-making process differently from you, i.e. secularly.

    That brings me to the final paragraph of your entry, which I find a bit confusing. Having 2 paragraphs addressed to people of type A and type B, respectively, makes good sense. But the second and third sentences of the paragraph for type-B persons seem to belong in the type-A paragraph. You seem to be trying to say that your framing of a calling is generalizable so as to relate to people with diverse spiritualities and theologies. If so, I think it would be a service to state that more fully. The world is full of people who say “I believe in X and you don’t, so we have nothing in common.” I think that you, in contrast, tend to say “I believe in X and you believe in Y, but X and Y may simply be alternative interpretations of identical, similar, or at least compatible ideas, so we can likely still collaborate, teach, or inspire one another.” Your rhetoric, however, mostly doesn’t make it clear that you have this perspective, because it presents the entities that you consider basic in your life as if they were interpersonal objective realities. So, if you indeed want to explain how some of the lessons you have learned can apply to all, regardless of their religious beliefs, I think you can do so better by discussing this gap, and how much of a gap it really is or isn’t, explicitly.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Jonathan! I’m glad to hear your project is progressing well :-). I think a well-reasoned discourse comparing and contrasting beliefs and areas of collaboration could be useful and I can keep that in mind for future posts. I do believe in God as an objective reality for all people, but I am also open to genuine dialogue with people and engaging about their basic beliefs regardless of religious/non-religious background. Thanks again!

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